A massive new survey of some 37,000 students enrolled at 159 of America’s public and private universities reveals the stunning statistics that nearly one in four agrees that it is acceptable to use violence to shut down a controversial speaker.
The survey was done by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, the College Pulse, and Real Clear Education.
The results showed that 23% of the respondents “support using violence to stop a campus speaker,” the survey said, up 5% from the answer to the same question just a year ago.
At two elite women’s colleges, Wellesley College and Barnard College, the responses were 45% and 43%, respectively, that violence was acceptable.
It was Claremont McKenna College that ranked No. 1 for protecting free speech, and DePauw that was the worst.
The assessment also noted that 83% of students report self-censoring, mostly because of their fear of being “canceled” by others who may come to know what they think, including one in four who self-censor “often.”
Many college ranking system look at other factors, but this focused on freedom of speech, a “core aspect” of higher education, explained, Robert Shibley, the executive director of FIRE.
“Existing ranking systems don’t look at a core aspect of higher education: the ability to think, discuss, and speak freely,” he said. “Our rankings guide prospective students and their parents toward schools that value free speech and open inquiry. They also help us hold schools accountable and demand they do better,” he said.
The review looked at various dimensions of free expression on campus, including the ability to talk about race, gender dynamics and geo-political conflicts, and whether students felt pressured to hold back their views.
“The rankings are designed to help students and parents make enrollment decisions, and score the overall speech climate on each campus,” FIRE explained.
The best five included: Claremont McKenna College, University of Chicago, University of New Hampshire, Emory University and Florida State University.
The worst, from the bottom up, are DePauw, Marquette, Louisiana State, Wake Forest and Boston College.
“There are fundamental questions that every student should want answered before committing to a college,” explained Adam Goldstein, the senior research counsel for FIRE. “The value of higher education comes from developing a fuller understanding of the world by asking questions that challenge the status quo. A college that won’t clearly protect your right to ask those questions is a bad deal, even it it boasts small class sizes or a fancy stadium.”
The assessment looked at seven factors: openness to discussions of controversial topics, tolerance of liberal – and conservative – speakers, administrative support for free speech, comfort expressing ideas publicly, whether students support disruptive conduct and FIRE’s own speech code rating.
Fire noted generally, students “showed much greater intolerance for campus speakers with conservative positions” and racial inequality, abortion and gun control are the most difficult subjects to discuss.
FIRE reported, “The data also reveal that students are most uncomfortable expressing their views on social media or when engaging in a public disagreement with a professor.
Sean Stevens, FIRE’s senior research fellow for polling, said, “The research is clear, and our experience working with these schools confirms it: Much of the campus climate for expression is determined by the administration. Staking out a leadership position on free speech and open debate resonates with students and has a real effect on a campus’ climate for free expression.”
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